Executive Summary for February 22nd

We review the key developments in Syria, including the Eastern Ghouta death toll climbing as more than 300 people are killed in four days, pro-government forces returning to Afrin after being pushed back by Turkey, and U.S. coalition strikes killing 12 people in east Syria.

Published on Feb. 22, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Eastern Ghouta Attacks Kill More Than 300 People in Four Days

Airstrikes and artillery attacks on the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus on Wednesday killed at least 38 people, Reuters reported.

Wednesday’s death toll raises the number of people killed in the besieged suburbs since Sunday night to at least 310. An additional 1,550 people have been injured in some of the deadliest attacks since the start of the Syrian war, Reuters said, citing the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR).

The stepped-up attacks on the last rebel enclave near the Syrian capital have also damaged and destroyed a number of medical facilities in the area. At least 13 hospitals and clinics supported by Doctors Without Borders have been damaged or destroyed over the past three days, the organization said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, international aid organizations have called for a suspension of hostilities to allow for humanitarian access.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) appealed for humanitarian access to Eastern Ghouta on Wednesday in order to reach civilians in need of urgent medical care, according to Reuters.

“The fighting appears likely to cause much more suffering in the days and weeks ahead,” said Marianne Gasser, ICRC’s head of delegation in Syria. “This is madness and it has to stop.”

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday called for an “immediate suspension of all war activities” in Eastern Ghouta, where he said some 400,000 people are living “in hell on earth.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Security Council is expected to vote in the coming days on a draft resolution demanding a one-month cease-fire in Syria to allow for aid deliveries and medical evacuations.

The proposal, submitted by Sweden and Kuwait, has been described by Russia as “not realistic.”

Russian U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told Reuters, “We cannot simply decide that there is a cease-fire. That’s a long and complex process to achieve.”

Pro-Government Forces Return to Afrin After Being Pushed Back

Militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad deployed in Afrin on Wednesday to bolster the Kurdish YPG militia in the fight against Turkish troops and allied rebels in the district, according to the SOHR.

Pro-government forces had first entered Afrin on Tuesday as part of an agreement between Damascus and the YPG. But their convoy was pushed back by Turkish shelling, leading Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to claim that Ankara had thwarted their deployment.

However, Syrian state media reported that more pro-government forces returned to Afrin on Wednesday, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Rezan Hedo, a YPG media adviser, confirmed to Reuters that pro-government forces were “still entering” the region, adding that they will be positioned in “suitable locations to repel the Turkish occupation army.”

Wednesday’s deployment brings Damascus closer to a direct confrontation with Turkish troops and allied rebels who have been fighting the YPG in Afrin since they launched Operation Olive Branch last month.

Turkey warned on Wednesday that the arrival of pro-government forces in Afrin will have grave consequences, according to Reuters.

“Any step by the (Syrian) regime or other elements in this direction will surely have serious consequences,” President Erdogan’s spokesman told a news conference, according to Reuters.

U.S. Coalition Strike Reportedly Kills 12 People in Deir Ezzor

Airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition killed 12 people in Deir Ezzor province on Wednesday, according to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency.

Wednesday’s attack on the Hajin region comes roughly 48 hours after an earlier coalition airstrike killed some 16 people in the nearby village of al-Bahra in Deir Ezzor’s eastern countryside, SANA said.

Hajin is located along the Euphrates River, northwest of the town of Boukamal.

The U.S.-led coalition and its Kurdish partners – the Syrian Democratic Forces – are battling the last remnants of the so-called Islamic State in eastern Syria.

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